Tequila and Knishes | Newberry

Tequila and Knishes

I admit I had forgotten we had this. It is a landmark of modern poetry. About a hundred years old, it still has its dustjacket and is signed by one of the poets who made Spectrist Poetry the talk of the literary world. She signed it in 1933, long after the book had been lost in the rushing swirl of modern poetry, but surely it still counts.

No one studies Spectrist Poetry now, that I know of (but who knows what goes on in the depths of sophomore Lit classes?) but in 1916, when Spectra, by Emmanuel Morgan and Anne Knish was published, it made a massive splash. The introduction explains the Spectrist Method of poetry and its philosophy, in a number of “senses” which make no sense.

The poetry, against all odds, is considerably more readable. Emmanuel Morgan’s “Ode 6” (none of the poems have titles, just the word “Ode” and a number: it was all part of the higher philosophy) has become something of a classic by itself: “If I were only dafter/I might be making hymns/To the liquor of your laughter/And the lacquer of your limbs.” A maximum amount of sense in a limited number of words, as my high school lit professor defined poetry. (One of the gents in the back of the room demanded “So what about Longfellow?” which set off one of those discussions which are SUPPOSED to happen in high school classrooms and seldom do. Oh, those days of philosophy and tequila sunrises, when we little recked that the future of literature lay in blogs and tweets and we knew that we had all the answers, though that may have been more a matter of the tequila sunrises than….where were we?)

Our copy of the book is signed by Anne Knish, who accomplished the difficult feat of being forgotten largely as a woman and as a man.

See, Emmanuel Morgan was actually poet Witter Bynner, and Anne Knish was poet Arthur Davison Ficke. The Spectra Method was meant to be an arrow of satire fired at the likes of modern poets Ezra Pound, William Carlos Williams, and others whom Pound admitted into the circles of Les Imagistes. Part of the reason the arrow wound up going astray, I think, was that the parodists made the mistake of composing intelligible poetry. How could the Spectrists possibly compete with the Imagists while distracted by such a thing?

Witter Bynner/Emmanuel Morgan went on to write more poetry under his own name, and to hang out with the likes of D.H.Lawrence, with whom he made a noted trip to the Far East, resulting in noted works by both men. Arthur Davison Ficke, known as a solid but conservative poet, admitted later that he had taught himself a few new tricks writing as Anne Knish: his poetry became riskier as time went by. He also wrote plays and novels, which, like Witter Bynner’s work, are collected only by a few specialists, and generally don’t cost as much as what they realized would be their most famous work: Spectra.

So his autograph on this copy of Spectra (which came with a note from the previous owner explaining why they knew Ficke is the person who inscribed it) was probably only mildly grudging. In their own way, Emmanuel Morgan and Anne Knish inspired at least the two harsh critics who had actually written the book.

And it adds to our little collection of books signed by people who may or may not be said to actually exist. I also ran into the autobiography signed by the Grand Duchess Anastasia, some forty or fifty years after she escaped from the Soviet captors who later claimed to have executed her. Smart money now claims Anastasia did, in fact, die before a firing squad in 1917, which puts this Anastasia in the same league as Anne Knish. You could buy them both and set them on the shelf with this copy of Alice in Wonderland signed by Alice (who DID exist, but claimed she didn’t do very MANY of the things in that book.) It’s sort of up to you to define the standards by which you collect autographs of non-existing people. You could go with “Books Signed by people Whose Names Start With A” and not have to print out this blog to explain it to people. Or you could serve tequila sunrises before you explain.

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